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Exchange Contractors July 10, 2020

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Ger Bennett BannerThe San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority board of directors met on Friday, July 10, 2020 remotely from their Los Banos headquarters. It was held on GoToMeeting but without audio so you still had to phone it in. The meeting began at 9:00am with Executive Director Chris White and Chairman Jim O’Banion leading the flag salute. White then took roll and all the usual suspects were in attendance, a full quorum of directors and staff. The public then chipped in and there were a few names I did not recognize but it was a rather smaller than normal gathering telephonically than occurs in person.Conterra

Action Items

The agenda and minutes were approved. Public participation was the fourth item and no one spoke up. Columbia Canal Company General Manager Randy Houk sat in as an alternate for Director Chris Cardella.

Ex Con Director of Finance & Human Resources Joann White gave the financial report starting with paying the bills and then three budget comparison reports followed by the cash activity report and Finance Committee minutes of June 1st. The board was peachy with all this and voted approval without comment.

During the remote meeting voice votes are taken by roll. O’Banion conducted the roll call which is usually delegated to staff. This is a little more efficient. Cardella joined the meeting.

Staff Reports

Water Master Adam Hoffman gave his report saying Lake Shasta is drawing down about 15,000 a/f per day. Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River is drawing down about 5,000 a/f per day. Upstream storage on the SJR watershed is at 101 percent of normal. The federal Jones Plant is running at 3,500 cfs and the state Banks Plant is at 2,100 cfs. San Luis Reservoir is looking at a federal low point of 135,000 a/f occurring this month but that may go higher than expected. Shasta is looking at 2-2.2 million a/f low point in September.

White gave his Ex O report saying the Mendota Pool fish screen location the US Bureau of Reclamation has chosen is in a bad place at the edge of the San Joaquin River instead of the original center of the channel. This brings with it some property easement challenges and other problems. The folks who live here and know the best course of how to deal with practical matters is trying to work with the Bureau’s Denver headquarters design team and although things are have been knocked off schedule there is a glimmer of cooperation starting to show.

White said there is a FEMA grant that could fund part of the Ex Con water resources efforts. Subsidence east of Sac Dam has been monitored and Ex Con is working with Triangle T WD. TTWD has hired someone from Summers Engineering to help out and work with Dr. Ken Schmidt.

On the legislative front White said the Ex Con water resources plan has been put before the Valley delegation for funding. The Del Puerto Dam project has a shot at some federal funds. He said staff has been working with the USBR in responding on the State Water Board’s rejection of the Sacramento River temperature management plan. A federal judge denied the State Board’s attempt to impose a restraining order on the plan.

Director of Policy Steve Chedester gave his report saying the change in the fish screen will set things back six months. The reverse flow facilities is also waiting on the Bureau for design approval. There will be a meeting next week with the Bureau to develop a master schedule. Staff has been waiting three months for this meeting and it looks like it will finally take place. Columbia Canal Company will be meeting with the Bureau team about a siphon and work on a canal. A temporary entry permit is needed and CCC is working this so private property can be reconnoitered.

The SJV Water Blueprint is working with Fresno State and various NGOs on drinking water issues. There is a Phase II economic report on going to further flesh out the findings of what will happen to the Valley when SGMA is fully implemented.

Water Transfers

White reported on four proposed water transfers. From time to time some growers want to move groundwater within the Ex Con area. There is a procedure backed by policy in place. There are requirements that must be met before approval of the transfers can take place. For example there is a 2,000 a/f transfer from Firebaugh Canal Water District to Panoche WD proposed. This will take place from July to September and shows how the water will be generated without any harm and how it will be used. It’s a pretty thorough vetting that takes into account even if the canals used for conveyance are lined or not. Environmental studies have been done in advance. There were some questions about the source of the water and FCWD GM Jeff Bryant explained it to everyone’s satisfaction. The board approved the transfers.

White presented the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir progress saying the feasibility draft has been submitted to the Bureau. There were some questions and a meeting will take place Monday to iron out all of these issues. The Mid Pacific USBR office will then forward the study to Denver HQ and Department of Interior. He also expects the EIR to be approved by September perhaps. A preliminary relocation for the Del Puerto Road is underway and some private property negotiation may take place. PG&E has power lines that will need to be moved and consultants were hired to help work with PG&E and save a good deal of the costs – like $100 million. Pretty good savings.

Rules & Regs

Consulting attorney David Cory gave the Bay/Delta/Regulation report. Poor guy only gets to report good news once in a blue moon. Cory reports on regulation mischief originating in Sacramento; often from the State Board and to a lesser degree from the Regional Board. He started with the nitrate control program. A formula is being developed to let growers know how much fertilizer can be used in the long term. This formula is known as SWAT – Soil & Water Assessment Tool. Nitrates in groundwater has the state and social justice gang all lathered up. Too much nitrate in groundwater could conceivably be consumed in drinking water. If a pregnant woman drinks too much it could cause her baby to have difficulty utilizing oxygen properly and result in blue baby syndrome. To my knowledge, and I’ve been asking this question for a long time, there has never been a case of this in California. One of the considerations not often taken into account is many of the people created in God’s image living in these disadvantaged communities come from Latin America where prenatal care isn’t as available as here in the United States. Some of these babies start off life with less than what would be considered minimum health care practices in the first world.

Also, and I’ve mentioned this many times but in the war of ideas words are often the first casualty; the terms Environmental and Social Justice are loaded. Justice is justice. Adding a prefix limits the understanding of this fundamental term which is tantamount to limiting the discussion.

Back to the meeting. Cory said Ex Con is in a Priority Two area for nitrates and therefore has two more years before implementing this. The advantage is Priority One areas will invent some of the wheels as they have to start complying now.


White gave the legislative report saying the state goberment budget submitted by Governor Gavin Newsom in January was birthed in a far different world than that of today. The COVID pandemic has changed things dramatically; by billions of dollars – a $54 billion deficit. This impacts things all over the place because the state government is all over the place. CEQA requirements and the voluntary agreements negotiations (although a plethora of lawsuits has shut down those talks) are two examples of water related impacts.

On the federal side Del Puerto Dam is looking at a $1.5 million boost from the Department of Interior. Highway, rail and water infrastructure is on the table for funding in a House bill. If I understand it has no chance of passage in the Senate because it is packed with every leftist daydream it can find.


Attorney Paul Minasian reported the City of Fresno and Friant are still suing over monetary damage claims against the USBR sending SJR water to Ex Con during the 2014-2015 portion of the latest drought. He gave many reasons why they will not prevail but the billing continues. He also reported there is a schism between the federal and state Delta operations that will only be enhanced by politically driven litigation. California Attorneys General Xavier Becerra is filing lawsuits like he’s bailing out a boat. Minasian also said the definition of what a water right is in California is in some jeopardy. There is a court case trying to undermine what a right is involving water agencies in Tehama County that will impact everyone. In constitutional law you can’t take a right from someone without due process. More about that in closed session. If you go to the bottom of the page on these reports you’ll usually find a report within a report of the entity being covered. Ex Con’s position on this matter is presented it its own words.

Towards the end of an Ex Con meeting each entities manager gets to speak. Jarret Martin, GM Central California Irrigation District is working to get the City of Dos Palos some better drinking water supplies. Houk said aquatic weeds in the Mendota Pool is a bit of problem. Bryant said earlier this month FCWD got permission to use copper sulfate in the closed system portion of the district and it is working very well. He said the Grassland Basin Drainage JPA has hired a manager. He also said water deliveries are normal. John Wiersma, GM San Luis Canal Company had a slightly under-average deliveries. Hyacinth has been a problem as well. He said the district is gearing up for six capital construction projects this year.

There was nothing to present under the informational item and the meeting went into closed session at 10:18am and that was that.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2020 by Don A. Wright


Main Office: 541 H Street, P.O. Box 2115 Los Banos, CA 93653 Office 209/827-8616 Email:

DWR SGMA Identifier #5-022.07

The Exchange Contractors cover almost a quarter of a million acres in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties.

Mission Statement

The Exchange Contractors Water Authority mission is to effectively protect the Exchange Contract and maximize local water supply, flexibility and redundancy in order to maintain local control over the members’ water supply.


James O’Banion-Chair Central California Irrigation District, Chris Cardella-Vice Chair Columbia Canal Company, James L. Nickel-Treasurer San Luis Canal Company, Mike Stearns-Director Firebaugh Canal Water District


Chris White-Executive Director, Steve Chedester- Director Policies & Programs, Adam Hoffman-Water Resources Specialist, Joann White-Director Finance and Human Resources, Patty Baldini-Office Assistant, Darlene O’Brien- Administrative Assistant, Paul Minasian-Attorney


The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors hold some of the oldest water rights in the state, dating back to the late 1800s. The rights were established by Henry Miller of the legendary Miller and Lux cattle empire. In 1871, Henry Miller constructed canals to divert water from the San Joaquin and North Fork of the Kings Rivers for irrigation of his vast acreage. Today, several of the original Miller and Lux canals are operated by the Exchange Contractors.

Although Henry Miller’s canals served the irrigation needs of his estate in the western portion of Fresno, Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus counties, in order for more growth on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley to occur, more water was needed. In 1933, the United States Department of Interior undertook the Central Valley Project, a vast undertaking to build dams throughout the great Central Valley including the Sacramento, American and San Joaquin Rivers. When construction of the Friant Dam (north of Fresno) was under consideration, feasibility studies showed that irrigation development of the Friant Project between Chowchilla and Bakersfield depended upon water being diverted from the San Joaquin River at Friant Dam and brought to the east side of the valley, via the Friant-Kern Canal.

To accomplish this, the government asked the heirs of Miller and Lux to agree to “exchange” where they receive their pre-1914 appropriative and riparian water from the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers for guaranteed deliveries of “substitute” water from the Sacramento River by means of the Delta-Mendota Canal and other facilities of the United States. This agreement, known as the “Exchange Contract,” along with the accompanying “Purchase Contract,” were reached in 1939 and that led to the name “San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors.” In normal years, the Exchange Contractors are guaranteed 100% of their contractual water allotment (840,000 acre feet) and in critical years the amount is 75% (650,000 a/f).

The Exchange Contractors, however, did not abandon their San Joaquin River water rights. Instead, they agreed not to exercise those San Joaquin and Kings Rivers’ water rights if guaranteed water deliveries continued through the Delta-Mendota Canal or other facilities of the United States. – from